Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Murder trial continues

Big murder trial continues today.

Trial opens with graphic testimony


Janice Marie Vickers pleaded not guilty Tuesday to a charge of murder in the 2006 killing of an 82-year-old Canyon Lake woman.

Vickers, 48, stands accused of intentionally running over Shirley Lindenbaum with her Chevy Tahoe on White Oak Drive near Startzville on Nov. 3, 2006. A two-year investigation resulted in Vickers’ arrest Dec. 12, 2008.

Following her plea, both sides made opening statements Tuesday.

The prosecution consists of District Attorney Geoff Barr and two attorneys from the Attorney General’s office. Deputized as assistant district attorneys, they are the lead prosecutors in the case.

Prosecutors opened their case by expressing their belief that Vickers possibly solicited money from Lindenbaum, who was wealthy, and was turned down. They cited a phone call made to Lindenbaum’s house by Vickers three hours before Lindenbaum’s death, tire marks in Lindenbaum’s driveway that matched Vickers’ Tahoe, and possible signs of a struggle in Lindenbaum’s home.

Defense attorney Mark Clark disputed the tire marks, noting the Austin crime lab said only that the tire marks “might” belong to Vickers’ vehicle. He said the only thing that could be construed as a sign of a struggle in Lindenbaum’s house was a phone cord that had been ripped from the wall.

Prosecutors also released for the first time the gruesome details of Lindenbaum’s death.

In statements to police the night of the accident, Vickers said she was driving on the rural road around 9:30 p.m. when some CDs rolled onto the floorboard. Reaching for them, she looked away from the road and the vehicle drifted onto the grassy shoulder, where it struck an object. She said she came to a stop and reversed her vehicle, backing over the object again before getting out and realizing the object was a person.

Lindenbaum was lying in the ditch next to Vickers’ vehicle, her body twisted and head crushed.

Prosecutors said it was not an accident.

“You don’t accidentally run over somebody twice – and that’s what the evidence in this case is going to show you,” said prosecutor Ralph Guerrero.

Clark said his client did not purposely try to kill Lindenbaum.

“Murder, by definition, is the knowing or intentional act of causing Mrs. Lindenbaum to die,” he said. “There is no sign that my client premeditated or planned this ahead of time. She is the one who called 911, stayed until police arrived and voluntarily went to Comal County Sheriff’s Office to give her statement.”

Vickers dialed 911 from her cell phone after soliciting the help of a nearby resident, Perry Fulcher.

Initial testimony came from the first responders to the scene, starting with Canyon Lake EMS technician Adrienne Rush, who arrived shortly after the 911 call.

Rush testified that after observing Lindenbaum, she did not check for vital signs because the condition of the body made it unnecessary.

“The body was in pretty bad shape,” she said. “This did not appear to be somebody I could help.”

Next on the scene was Sheriff’s Deputy Michael Smith. He described Vickers as “hysterical.”

“She said she had murdered the victim by running over (her),” said Smith, who is now a sheriff’s corporal. He said he had never heard someone use the term “murder” before in relation to an accident.

Department of Public Safety Trooper Anthony Rodriguez arrived on the scene at 9:54 p.m.

“The crime scene appeared to be odd,” he said, agreeing with earlier statements by Rush and Smith that there was no damage to the front of Vickers’ vehicle.

“There were a lot of unusual things I observed (about the body),” said Rodriguez, who said he has seen at least two to three traffic fatalities every year since he joined the highway patrol in 2002.

“(The body) looked like it had been there a long time,” he said. “It was very stiff and pale.”

Rush, Smith and Rodriguez all testified to aspects of the scene they found odd, including the fact that Lindenbaum was barefoot and shoes were never located. She was several blocks from her house and her feet were relatively clean and unscratched, they said.

Rush and Rodriguez testified to the coolness of the body, which they both said was surprisingly cold, given their response time.

Rodriguez said he found no evidence of skid marks before or after the location of Lindenbaum’s body and no CDs were found on the floorboard.

The most graphic testimony came from Fulcher, the neighbor, who said he ran to the scene under the impression a person was trapped under Vickers’ vehicle. He testified that once he arrived, it was obvious Lindenbaum was dead. He tried to bring Vickers to the rear of her vehicle and calm her down.

However, he said, she kept returning to the body, trying to pull it farther away from the car.

Fulcher testified at one point, Vickers picked up some of the brain matter and sat down in her passenger seat before he could persuade her to come to leave the body alone.

Rodriguez confirmed he found blood and brain matter in the passenger seat.

Prosecutors have subpoenaed 36 people in the trial, though it is uncertain how many will testify.

Testimony for the prosecution resumes tomorrow at 9 a.m.